Latest Developments, June 18

In the latest news and analysis…

G8 promises
The Associated Press reports on the somewhat vague declarations made at the conclusion of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland:

“G-8 leaders also published sweeping goals for tightening the tax rules on globe-trotting corporations that long have exploited loopholes to shift profits into foreign shelters that charge little tax or none. But that initiative, aimed at forcing the Googles and Apples of the world to pay higher taxes, contained only aspirations, no binding commitments.

And Britain itself stands accused of being one of the world’s main links in the tax-avoidance chain. Several of Britain’s own island territories — including Jersey, Guernsey and the British Virgin Islands — serve as shelters and funnel billions each week through the City of London.”

House cleaning
The Scotsman reports that skepticism remains after UK tax havens promised to “produce action plans” on increasing the transparency of corporations’ true owners:

“[British Prime Minister David] Cameron stepped back from making the new registry of company interests public, amid fears that if Britain acted alone, it would put UK companies at a massive disadvantage to foreign competitors.
Meanwhile, leading tax evasion campaigner Richard Murphy warned of the workload.
He said: ‘The UK’s law on companies filing information – with the register of Companies House and [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs] – is simply not enforced now. So why on earth do we think this new law will be enforced unless the resources are put into ensuring that it is?’
There were also concerns that the deal with overseas territories would not cover ‘trusts’, which could still be used by firms to hide details.”

Tax-haven school
While the G8 was talking tough about offshore secrecy, the International Monetary Fund announced that it had opened its Africa Training Institute in a tax haven:

“ ‘Today, we are opening a new chapter in capacity-building in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to the generous financial contribution and logistical support of the Mauritius government—the host country–as well as financial support pledges from the Australian Agency for International Development and the Chinese authorities,’ IMF representative Vitaliy Kramarenko said at the opening session. The Africa Training Institute’s key objective is to contribute to improved macroeconomic and financial policies through high-quality training, which would ultimately support sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Joint spying operations
The Washington Post reports that the UK government appears not to have been the only one involved in spying on G20 officials during 2009 meetings in London:

“At least some of the documents posted on the Guardian’s Web site contained the logos of the [National Security Agency] as well as Canada’s security agency, suggesting that a portion of the activities were part of joint or shared operations. The documents also indicated that the British were passed information from the NSA, which reportedly was conducting an eavesdropping operation on then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.”

Fleecing a continent
The Guardian reports that the African Development Bank’s president, Donald Kaberuka, has said his continent is “being ripped off big time”:

“Kaberuka was addressing the perennial question of foreign corporations extracting Africa’s mineral resources at huge profit for shareholders with scant reward for local populations.

Africa loses an estimated $62.2bn (£40bn) in illegal outflows and price manipulation every year, much of it exported by multinationals. The Africa Progress Panel under former UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently highlighted how the Democratic Republic of the Congo lost at least $1.36bn in potential revenues between 2010 and 2012 due to knock-down sales of mining assets to offshore companies.”

Justice delayed
The Age reports that Australian police made the “inexplicable” decision not to investigate allegations that Melbourne-based mining giant BHP Billiton had bribed officials in Cambodia, China and Australia:

“Confidential documents reveal how the [Australian Federal Police] and [the Australian Securities & Investments Commission], with the knowledge of federal officials, mishandled one of the nation’s highest-profile corporate graft cases after US officials referred it to their Australian counterparts in May 2010.
US anti-corruption investigators have been probing BHP Billiton since 2009 – an inquiry that is likely to result in the company receiving a massive fine. But they had told the federal police the bribery allegations were ‘’a matter for Australian authorities’.

It was only recently that a self-initiated internal review led the AFP to reopen the bribery file and initiate a formal investigation.”

Executive wrongdoing
The Standard reports that the vice president of Austria’s central bank has been charged with “overseas graft and money-laundering”:

“Wolfgang Duchatczek, as well as top officials from the Austrian Mint and the central bank’s money-printing subsidiary OeBS, were accused of paying bribes to Azerbaijani and Syrian officials bribes to secure contracts between 2005 and 2011. The bribes amounted to 14-20 percent of the value of the contracts. In total, some 14 million euros made their way to Baku and Damascus via offshore accounts, prosecutors said.”

Offshore database
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has announced the launch of a new searchable database containing information from “a cache of 2.5 million leaked offshore files”:

“ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database reveals the names behind more than 100,000 secret companies and trusts created by two offshore services firms: Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL). TrustNet and CTL’s clients are spread over more than 170 countries and territories.
The Offshore Leaks web app allows readers to explore the relationships between clients, offshore entities and the lawyers, accountants, banks and other intermediaries who help keep these arrangements secret.”

Haiti’s gold
Oxfam’s Keith Slack argues that a looming mining rush could make Haiti’s already considerable problems “even worse”:

“As I’ve written previously, Haiti could take some steps now that could help it avoid some of the worst impacts of the ‘resource curse.’ It must be said, though, that past efforts to build government capacity at the same time a new extractive industry develops, as was the case in Chad, don’t inspire much confidence. If Haiti’s economic development is the primary goal here, and given the country’s multiple governance and environmental challenges (severe water contamination, deforestation, vulnerability to earthquakes and hurricanes among them), there’s a heretical notion to some that should seriously be considered.
Leaving the gold in the ground is an option.”

Latest Developments, June 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Dangerous business
The UN News Centre reports that World Health Organization head Margaret Chan has singled out “big business” as a top threat to the fight against non-communicable diseases:

“ ‘It is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics.’
She said these tactics include front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research that ‘confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.’
They also include gifts, grants, and contributions to worthy causes that cast these industries as respectable corporate citizens in the eyes of politicians and the public, she added. They include arguments that place the responsibility for harm to health on individuals, and portray Government actions as interference in personal liberties and free choice.

‘Let me remind you. Not one single country has managed to turn around its obesity epidemic in all age groups. This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.’ ”

IP enforcement
The Guardian reports that a new draft agreement gives the world’s poorest countries an eight-year “grace period” instead of the exemption from international intellectual property laws that they had sought:

“ ‘They should have gotten more,’ says Sangeeta Shashikant, of the Third World Network, an NGO with offices in Geneva. ‘Eight years is nothing, really. The conditions in [least developed countries] aren’t really going to change in eight years.’
A handful of rich countries – led by the US and the EU – were reportedly adamant in their opposition to the LDCs’ proposal, which would have allowed the countries to maintain their exemption from the intellectual property rules for as long as they remained officially classified as LDCs.

If LDCs were to lose their exemption, any of the countries that failed to comply with the Trips agreement would be open to lawsuits under the WTO’s dispute settlement system. While it would be unlikely for a developed country to challenge an LDC in that forum, rich nations could use LDCs’ non-compliance to pressure them in other ways, such as by withholding aid money.”

Lethal aid
Reuters reports that the US could decide as early as this week to help arm Syria’s rebels:

“U.S. officials are adamant that Washington will not put ‘boots on the ground,’ which means deploying troops.
Fredrick Hof, a former senior U.S. official who worked on Syria policy, said the administration might decide to take charge of the distribution of weapons to the rebels, but not necessarily to provide U.S. arms.”

Boundless Informant
The Guardian reports that the National Security Agency’s newly revealed surveillance program extends well beyond monitoring communications within the US:

“A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA ‘global heat map’ seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.”

Thinking ahead
The Blue Planet Project’s Meera Karunananthan writes that events in El Salavador, where a ban on metal mining is being considered, show how difficult it can be for a “developing” country to protect its fresh water:

“Meanwhile, both [US-based] Commerce Group and [Canadian-based] Pacific Rim are using a World Bank trade tribunal to circumvent community consent and state regulation. They are suing the Salvadoran government for more than $400m through the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID), whose mandate is to protect investment rights.

As scientists and world leaders deliberate on how to fix the global water crisis, there should be greater international support for communities and countries attempting to forge new paths away from water-destructive economies. If El Salvador overcomes the odds and becomes the first country in the world to ban metal mining, it could serve as a model for a world grappling with the threat of an imminent water crisis.”

State secrets
CBS News reports on documents suggesting the US State Department covered up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its staff:

“In such cases, [Diplomatic Security Service] agents told the Inspector General’s investigators that senior State Department officials told them to back off, a charge that [former Inspector General investigator Aurelia] Fedenisn says is ‘very’ upsetting.
‘We were very upset. We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went, was very disturbing,’ she said.
In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.”

BG Group v. Argentina
Bloomberg reports that the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which a British oil and gas company is trying to obtain a $185 million award from Argentina’s government for capping natural gas prices in 2002:

“BG says the price freeze caused the bankruptcy of Metrogas SA, an Argentine gas distributor it previously controlled. BG says that, had it filed suit, it would have been punished under Argentine law and excluded from negotiations designed to mitigate the effects of the price cap.
The Obama administration urged the high court to reject the BG appeal, saying the appeals court reached the right decision.”

Let them eat cake
Oxfam’s Mohga Kamal-Yanni writes that the IMF, which may soon agree to lend millions to Egypt, does not seem to share Egyptians’ primary concerns, which she lists as “bread, freedom, social justice”:

“Instead, [the IMF] narrowly focuses on three economic measures: removing fuel subsidies, increasing the General Sales Tax (GST), and floating the pound, despite the clear signs of unrest among ordinary Egyptians as they have already started to suffer the impact of the fuel crisis.

And other ways to improve the fiscal and economic situation are not being taken seriously by either the government or the IMF. Civil society and academics have proposed measures such as progressive taxation, taxing the stock exchange, or removing fuel subsidies for rich people and energy-intensive industry. The IMF’s typical answer is that these measures would take time and not raise sufficient revenue.”

Latest Developments, May 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Perpetual war
The Washington Post provides a transcript of US President Barack Obama’s speech (complete with interruptions) laying out his vision of national security, including the use of drone strikes and the Guantanamo Bay prison:

“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance, for the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power, or risk abusing it.

Now, this last point is critical because much of the criticism about drone strikes, both here at home and abroad, understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war.
And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss.

We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root. And in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war through drones or special forces or troop deployments will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways.

The original premise for opening Gitmo, that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.

Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut [Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin] who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

Gitmo upgrades
USA Today reports that despite President Obama’s apparent enthusiasm for shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon is seeking nearly half a billion dollars for “maintaining and upgrading” the controversial facility:

“The budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 calls for $79 million for detention operations, the same as the current year, and $20.5 million for the office of military commissions, an increase over the current amount of $12.6 million. The request also includes $40 million for a fiber optic cable and $99 million for operation and maintenance.
The Pentagon also wants $200 million for military construction to upgrade temporary facilities. That work could take eight to 10 years as the military has to transport workers to the island, rely on limited housing and fly in building material.”

Mine attack
The Guardian reports that a uranium mine run by French state-owned nuclear giant Areva has been hit by one of a pair of simultaneous suicide bombings in Niger:

“Areva, the world’s second largest uranium producer, said that its mine was ‘badly damaged’ forcing it to stop production.
Although Areva has been attacked by [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] in the past – with five French workers taken hostage at the site in 2010 – the latest attacks are the first of their kind in Niger. Niger has been singled out as a target for its role in the military intervention in Mali, for its relationship with France – which obtains 20% of its uranium from Niger – and with the US, which signed an agreement this year to establish a new military base in the country.”

Lagarde in court
Agence France-Presse reports that the stakes are “huge” for the International Monetary Fund as its chief appears for questioning in a French court over her role in a corruption case:

“Criminal charges against [Christine] Lagarde, 57, would mark the second scandal in a row for an IMF chief, after her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also from France, resigned in disgrace over an alleged assault on a New York hotel maid.

[Prosecutors] have suggested Lagarde, who at the time was finance minister, was partly responsible for “numerous anomalies and irregularities” which could lead to charges for complicity in fraud and misappropriation of public funds.”

Moving down
Human Rights Watch has released a new report in which it alleges that many of the families who were relocated to make way for foreign-owned coal projects in Mozambique now lack reliable access to food, water and employment:

“The 122-page report, ‘What is a House without Food?’ Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements,’ examines how serious shortcomings in government policy and mining companies’ implementation uprooted largely self-sufficient farming communities and resettled them to arid land far from rivers and markets. These communities have experienced periods of food insecurity or, when available, dependence on short-term food assistance financed by Vale and Rio Tinto.

According to 2012 government data, approved mining concessions and exploration licenses cover approximately 3.4 million hectares, or 34 percent of Tete province’s area. Coal mining accounts for roughly one-third of these.
This figure jumps to roughly six million hectares, or approximately 60 percent of Tete province’s area, when licenses pending approval are included. Not all exploration activity leads to mining projects, but the high concentration of land designated for mining licenses contributes to conflicts over land use.”

Stockholm riots
The BBC reports that the fourth night of rioting in Sweden’s capital saw the violence spread beyond Husby, a “deprived, largely immigrant suburb”:

“Stockholm police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said the rioters were a ‘mixture of every kind of people’.
Activists in the Husby area have accused police of racist behaviour – an accusation greeted with scepticism by the police themselves.

The Stockholm police spokesman said rioting had occurred in both deprived parts of the city and parts that would be considered ‘normal’.”

G8 roadmap
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips lays out what he believes the G8 must do to start tackling international tax dodging and land grabbing:

“On land, success at the G8 would include a land transparency initiative, and regulatory guidance to G8 companies and investors, so that the G8 is not complicit in land grabbing. As French Development Minister Pascal Canfin said this week, ‘Without transparency and without protections, land investment can end up as looting. Where the Voluntary Guidelines are not being followed, land investment shouldn’t follow.’
On tax, success at the G8 would include a public registry of the ultimate owners of offshore assets, a deal on sharing of tax information not only between rich countries but with the poorest countries too, and – as they hold one third of the offshore wealth – these agreements must include, in full, all the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.”

Latest Developments, March 20

In the latest news and analysis….

Expendable country
Reuters reports that the European Central Bank is prepared to let Cyprus “succumb to financial meltdown” but believes it can save the eurozone:

“Cyprus propelled the 17-nation bloc into uncharted waters on Tuesday by rejecting a proposed levy on bank deposits as a condition of a 10 billion euro ($12.9 billion) EU bailout.
Without the aid, much of it to recapitalize Cypriot banks, the ECB says they will be insolvent, and it requires banks to be solvent for them to receive central bank support.

By stressing that it stands ready to provide liquidity ‘within the existing rules’, the ECB is standing firm.
The central bank is not ready to bend for Cyprus.”

Food shortage
Oxfam has blamed the French military intervention in Mali for skyrocketing food prices and shortages that are fuelling a “serious food security crisis” in the country’s north:

“A separate market survey in the same area revealed that in January 2013 the price of basic foodstuffs went up by as much as 70 per cent as a result of the military operation. By February, these abnormally high prices, far greater than the five year average, had still not stabilised. Oxfam‘s survey found that cereals like sorghum, millet and corn are no longer available on the market. While the availability of certain cereals is now improving, the continued closure of the Algerian border is preventing access to other key products in the diet of northern Malians, such as pasta, oil, sugar and rice.
Fuel shortages and rising fuels prices and conflict-related damage have also affected the water and electricity supply in the town of Gao.”

Intervention debate
The Washington Post reports that top US military commanders cannot agree on whether or not foreign intervention in Syria is advisable:

At a separate hearing held by [Senator Carl] Levin’s [Senate Armed Services] committee Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked NATO’s military chief, Adm. James G. Stavridis, whether it is time for the United States to ‘help the Syrian opposition in ways that would break what is a prolonged civil war.’
‘My personal opinion,’ Stavridis said, ‘is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime.’
But there is no consensus. On Monday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the role of military action during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘I don’t see a military option that would create an understandable outcome, and until I do, my advice would be to proceed cautiously,’ he said.

Questionable past
Agence France-Presse reports that French police have raided the home of IMF head Christine Lagarde over events that took place during her time in ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet:

“The investigation concerns Lagarde’s 2007 decision to ask an arbitration panel to rule on a dispute between disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie and the collapsed bank Credit Lyonnais.
The arbitration resulted in Tapie being awarded around 400 million euros ($499 million) – an outcome that triggered outrage among critics who insisted the state should never have taken the risk of being forced to pay money to Tapie, a convicted criminal.”

Fraying monopoly
Reuters reports that US President Barack Obama is looking to shape global guidelines on the use of drones as unmanned technology spreads to more and more countries:

“ ‘People say what’s going to happen when the Chinese and the Russians get this technology? The president is well aware of those concerns and wants to set the standard for the international community on these tools,’ said Tommy Vietor, until earlier this month a White House spokesman.

Obama’s new position is not without irony. The White House kept details of drone operations – which remain largely classified – out of public view for years when the U.S. monopoly was airtight.

Villagization inquiry needed
Human Rights Watch is calling on the World Bank to allow an investigation into its Ethiopia program, which is “shadowed by controversy” over reports of forced relocations:

“Despite the human rights risks that ‘villagization’ presents for the World Bank’s project, it has not applied its own safeguard policies. Its policy to protect indigenous people has not been applied in Ethiopia because the government does not agree that it should apply. Nor has the World Bank applied its policy on involuntary resettlement, which requires consultation and compensation when people are resettled.”

Viva Palma
The Center for Global Development’s Alex Cobham and King’s College London’s Andy Sumner make the case for the “Palma Ratio” as an alternative to the widely used Gini coefficient for measuring countries’ inequality levels:

“[Chilean economist Gabriel Palma] found that the ‘middle classes’ – more accurately the middle income groups between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ (defined as the five ‘middle’ deciles, 5 to 9) – tend to capture around half of GNI – Gross National Income wherever you live and whenever you look. The other half of national income is shared between the richest 10% and the poorest 40% but the share of those two groups varies considerably across countries.
Palma suggested distributional politics is largely about the battle between the rich and poor for the other half of national income, and who the middle classes side with.
So, we’ve given this idea a name – ‘the Palma’ (brilliant eh?) or the Palma Ratio. It’s defined as the ratio of the richest 10% of the population’s share of gross national income (GNI), divided by the poorest 40% of the population’s share. We think this might be a more policy-relevant indicator than the Gini, especially when it comes to poverty reduction.

Defining aid
The Guardian reports that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has a very inclusive concept of overseas development assistance:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee (OECD-DAC) defines what counts as ODA. Only spending with “the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries” is eligible. But the list of specific activities that can count as aid has grown to include administrative costs and spending on refugees in donor countries, estimated costs of students from developing countries, and programmes to raise the profile of development. Some argue this growing list has diluted the meaning of foreign aid and made it harder for the public to understand where their money is going. Both grants and loans (if they have a grant element of at least 25%) can count, and ODA can be given to developing countries or multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.

Latest Developments, January 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Mission creep
Le Monde reports being told by several military sources that the number of French troops on the ground in Mali is likely to be “considerably more than 3,000”:

“The mission’s anticipated duration remains unclear; officials will only say it will last ‘as long as necessary.’ There were 2,150 French troops deployed in Mali on Monday, with an additional 1,000 providing support.

In the second phase of the offensive, French forces will advance into the North. Rather than heavy bombardment, large numbers of helicopters will allow French forces to hold the ground. ‘Now is when the difficulties will begin,’ said a military official.” [Translated from the French.]

Hunger Inc.
The Independent reports that more than 100 civil society groups have launched a new campaign blaming a grain oligopoly for the hunger of hundreds of millions of people around the world:

“The new campaign challenges [this year’s G8 chair] David Cameron to take the lead in championing measures to stop tax-dodging by companies, prevent farmers from being forced off their land and ensure western nations live up to their promises on aid.

It says five multinationals – ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Glencore and Louis Dreyfus – control all but ten per cent of the world’s grain supplies.
The campaign’s chair, Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, said: ‘The stranglehold of a small number of companies on food supply is squeezing African farmers’ ability to feed themselves and their communities.’ ”

Buying access
The Globe and Mail reports that a Calgary-based energy company has agreed to pay the biggest foreign corruption fine in Canadian history over bribes paid to obtain oil and gas contracts in Chad:

“The plea by Griffiths Energy International Inc., a small privately held oil and gas company based in Calgary, stands to settle charges it faces under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act after a company investigation unearthed payments made in an attempt to secure lucrative energy properties in Africa.

It is illegal for Canadian companies to bribe foreign officials – transactions that were once viewed as routine business deals, particularly for resource outfits. The Griffiths case will mark the second conviction for the RCMP since it established teams dedicated to investigating foreign corruption.”

Dutch haven
Bloomberg reports that the Dutch parliament is looking into the Netherlands’ role as “a $13 trillion relay station on the global tax-avoiding network”:

“Last month, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, declared a war on tax avoidance and evasion, which it said costs the EU 1 trillion euros a year. The commission advised member states — including the Netherlands — to create tax-haven blacklists and adopt anti-abuse rules. It also recommended reforms that could undermine the lure of the Netherlands, and hurt a spinoff industry that has mushroomed in and around Amsterdam to abet tax avoidance.
Attracted by the Netherlands’ lenient policies and extensive network of tax treaties, companies such as Yahoo, Google Inc., Merck & Co. and Dell Inc. have moved profits through the country. Using techniques with nicknames such as the ‘Dutch Sandwich,’ multinational companies routed 10.2 trillion euros in 2010 through 14,300 Dutch ‘special financial units,’ according to the Dutch Central Bank. Such units often only exist on paper, as is allowed by law.”

Second fiddle
Radio France Internationale reports that, despite the personnel demands of the Mali intervention, the French military is maintaining a presence in another former colony, namely the Central African Republic:

“The military crisis has passed and soldiers, whether they be Central African or foreign, are less visible. The French army has been called to another theatre of operations, Mali, and in the streets of Bangui, French uniforms are now much more rare. ‘During last month’s crisis, we got up to 604 troops. The 240 that will stay here beyond the end of the week will carry out their original mission, providing logistical and technical support for the Central African Multinational Force. And of course, if the situation deteriorates again, they will ensure the protection of our citizens and our interests,’ said Lieutenant-Colonel Benoît Fine, commander of the French mission in the Central African Republic.” [Translated from the French.]

Questionable advice
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s new president’s apparent enthusiasm for the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund is causing a popular backlash:

“According to John Kapito, head of the watchdog known as the Consumers Association of Malawi, [President Joyce] Banda has ‘transferred power’ to the IMF and the World Bank.
‘Like many leaders of poor countries, the problem with Joyce Banda is that she doesn’t think on her own. She is listening to everything that the IMF and the World Bank are telling her. She (agreed) to devalue the kwacha, agreed to remove subsidies on fuel without considering the impact of these decisions on the poor,’ said Kapito, who helped organise the latest demonstrations.”

Libyan arms
The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer writes about the large quantities of weapons that went missing from Libya after NATO military action helped topple the country’s long-time ruler, weapons that may have precipitated the latest foreign intervention, this time in Mali:

“Gaddafi, [Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert] said, had built up a vast arsenal of kit, with dumps in every city. Much of it has gone missing – far more than, say, disappeared after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He himself photographed men with 18-wheel trailers towing away the landmines from my field – he reckoned there were 120,000 anti-personnel mines and 30,000 anti-tank mines. He says they were sold to an international arms dealer and are still in circulation.
‘The weapons that went missing in Libya are perhaps the greatest proliferation of weapons of war from any modern conflict,’ he said.”

Speaking out
Reuters reports that a Yemeni cabinet minister has broken ranks by criticizing US drone strikes in her country and calling for “more effective strategies”:

“[Human rights minister Hooria] Mashhour also said she wanted to see a fair trial for anyone suspected of involvement ‘in terrorist activities’.
‘This is our idea, to do this through the judiciary. But the United States said that it’s in an open war with them and they declared the US as an enemy. The (US) declared (militants) as enemies who could be targeted wherever they are found.
‘All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial,’ Mashhour added.